Our patient’s often have questions for us about TMJ, head, neck and facial pain. We’ve put together some answers to the most common questions here. If you have additional questions or would like more information about how we can help you with TMJ, head, neck or facial pain please call us today at (203)883-4433 or request a consultation.

Headaches are a very broad category of problems and include dozens of potential causes. Dental causes of head, neck or facial pain could include cavities, abscessed teeth, gum infection, cysts, tumors of the jaw bones or swollen glands, broken or cracked teeth and TMJ dysfunction syndrome.

TMJ dysfunction is any pain that results from a conflict between the biting surfaces of the teeth and the jaw joints. It is only one specific problem that can occur with the jaw joint. Unless it can be proven that the pain is caused by a conflict between the teeth and jaw joint, it is not TMJ dysfunction.

It could be TMJ dysfunction, but it might not. The only way to be sure is to go to a dentist who has specific training in treating TMJ dysfunction and be tested. TMJ dysfunction is easy to misdiagnose and so you need to be sure the dentist has the pre-requisite training.

Often, a whiplash injury triggers TMJ dysfunction. Anyone who has had a whiplash injury should be screened for TMJ dysfunction if the pain from the injury does not clear up quickly.

Stress does not cause TMJ dysfunction. A conflict between the biting surfaces of the teeth and jaw joint is the cause. Stress can take a patient, who has been tolerating this discomfort, and reduce their tolerance to the point that the pre-existing dental condition begins to cause pain.

Earaches have nothing to do with your teeth or TMJ dysfunction. However, if you put your finger in your ear, you can see how close it is to your jaw joint and teeth. If you open and close your mouth while your finger is in your ear, you can actually feel your jaw joint move. As a result, what may feel like a ear ache may in fact be a jaw joint problem.

If the dentist has ruled out tooth problems, then you need to be checked for TMJ dysfunction by a dentist who is specifically trained in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ dysfunction. Most dentists have not had this training.

Braces are great but they have limitations. First, your teeth may be straight but there still could be a conflict between your teeth and jaw joints even after braces. Second, things may have shifted since the braces were taken off.

Actually NO Stress does not cause headaches any more than stress causes knee aches or elbow aches.  What stress might do is lower your tolerance for an uneven bite.  And if  you bite is uneven many people start to clench or grind their teeth and that results in muscle over activity and that can lead to pain.  You need to get checked by a dentist trained in TMJ dysfunction.

Most people who do grind their teeth don’t realize it. Look at your teeth very carefully to see if there is any wear that could be due to tooth grinding, even if you don’t think you are doing it.

TMJ dysfunction is the pain that results, and can be proven to be caused, by a conflict between the teeth and jaw joints. The pain is actually muscle pain or cramping from the jaw muscles. These jaw muscles wrap around the entire head.

A tooth infection could definitely cause headaches, particularly an infection in a molar tooth.

A wisdom tooth problem could definitely cause head pain.

A gum infection could also be the cause of head pain.

Because taking pain pills is not good for you.   They can damage your liver and stomach and most important, taking a pill to mask the pain of a headache does nothing to solve the problem. Symptoms can continue to worsen even if it doesn’t hurt. Many patients who wind up with severe jaw problems that may require major surgery started out as a TMJ problem caused by the bite that was not properly treated.

You need to find a dentist with specific training in diagnosing and treating TMJ dysfunction. Most dentists do not have this training so you will need to be very specific in questioning the dentist to determine their qualifications.

First you need to determine if your bite is THE PROBLEM,  If it is the problem, braces could be the solution but may not be needed. The objective is to eliminate the conflict between the teeth and the jaw joints. Treatment options include:

1) A bite splint which is a temporary measure

2) Reshaping the biting surfaces of the teeth (bite equilibration) which is a long term solution for eliminating the conflict.

3) If your bite is off too far for reshaping, (option 2) then braces may be part of the solution. The goal is for you to end up with an even bite,  not just straight looking teeth.

A bite guard, if it is properly made, will definitely take away pain that is due to TMJ dysfunction, as long as it eliminates the conflict between the teeth and the jaw joint. However, it only works when you are wearing it. As soon as you take the bite splint out, your bite goes back to where it was before, so it is not a long-term solution.

If a bite splint didn’t help, either it was not adjusted well enough to eliminate the conflict between the teeth and jaw joint or, if it was, your bite is not the problem.

The bite guards they sell in a sports store is designed to act as a cushion to protect your teeth in case of a blow to the face.  The TMJ bite splint is not designed to act as a cushion but rather as a substitute for an even bite.

This is like when you have a wobbly table in a restaurant. If the waiter puts the correct size matchbook under the leg of the table it stops the wobble. If the matchbook isn’t exactly the right size, the table  continues to wobble.  So the best case is that you have a temporarily stable table. However, whenever the matchbook is removed, the legs are still not equal and the table will wobble again.

Similarly a bite splint will correct the wobble in your bite whenever you wear it, however like the matchbook, it must be exactly the right fit for it to work properly. And when it is removed your uneven bite is still there. Thus, a bite splint is not truly a long-term solution. The long term solution is to shorten the legs of the table until they are all equal such that you don’t have to use a matchbook at all.  The equivalent of this is to even out the bite by equilibration.

If you have questions or would like more information please call us at (203) 883-4433.